Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Mental Disability Groups Protest "Tropic Thunder"

People from the Special Olympics and the American Association of People with Disabilities have protested the opening of the new Ben Stiller comedy "Tropic Thunder," and many more are calling for a boycott of the film.

At issue? The liberal use of the word "retard" in the film -- specifically in regards to a movie-within-a-movie where Ben Stiller's character plays a mentally-disabled man.

Is this another case of PC-attitudes going amok? Or can a legitimate point be made that the word "retard" is as offensive as other words that are now mostly taboo?

Personally, I make it a point not to use the word "retard." It's just one of those words that seems kind of hurtful and ugly, even if used in the 1980s teen movie bully-picking-on-somebody sort of way that doesn't specifically refer to someone with learning disabilities.

That said, I can see that in the movie "Tropic Thunder" the point is that it's almost a cliche how actors and actresses pick parts as mentally disabled characters to establish their "cred" as serious thespians. Sometimes this turns out great, other times you get "I Am Sam" which I had to literally watch from a distance and halfway from another room because it was so corny.

But I don't like to use the word "retard," and maybe the protesters are right in so much as they suggest we give the term a second look and question its acceptance.

(I plan to watch "Tropic Thunder" eventually but really would rather see "Step Brothers.")


  1. Anonymous1:06 PM

    Sorry, I have a pre-teen and a teen in my house. The word retard is used on occasion. When I blog, I've used the word retard.


  2. Again, I'm not saying we should ban the word "retard."

    I just think it's good to sometimes take a second look at certain words we commonly use and accept.

  3. Not to downplay this group's concern, but if this is the extent of protesting against Thunder, the people involved should consider themselves lucky. Let's see how Downey's character is received ...

  4. I was looking forward to seeing this movie, but after hearing about the liberal use of the word "retard," I'm no longer interested. It's not a word that should be thrown around casually, in my opinion, and I choose not to spend my money on a movie that uses it in that fashion. I would cringe every time someone said it. I just wouldn't enjoy myself.

    As a parent of a special needs kid, I know it's just a matter of time before the word "retard" isn't just thrown around, it's thrown at my child. If raising this issue gets people to think about their word choices, then I'm for it.

  5. Sigh.

    What happened to laughing BECAUSE things are inappropriate?

  6. Anonymous2:31 PM

    Honestly, I'm a little trepidatious of this film to start with, due to Robert Downey Jr.'s turn in blackface.

    I don't want to cast aspersions on a movie I haven't seen. Maybe they treat both the mental diability issue and the race issue with a degree of care. Of course, it is a Ben Stiller comedy, so there'll be a degree of crashing through moral boundaries, but I'm hoping for something more along the lines of There's Something About Mary than some of Family Guy's less inspired moments.

  7. I INSTANTLY thought of "I Am Sam" when I heard about the uproar. But since Sean "METHOD" Penn's a serious actor it's OK for him to do it.

    As opposed to comedic satire.

    Good times, America! *thumbs up*

    -costa k

  8. The humor in Robert Downey, Jr.'s blackface portrayal does not come at the expense of African Americans, rather the audience is supposed to laugh at Downey's character for having the hubris to think that what he is doing is OK. From the trailer, it looks like the one legitimate black actor in the movie is the sole voice of reason on that point.

    Similarly, I expect the humor that comes from the word "retard" does not come at the expense of the legitimately handicapped, but rather at the self-congratulatory nature of Hollywood where portraying the mentally handicapped gives you Oscar cred. Contrasting that with the insensitive use of the word "retard" would highlight just how clueless they are to the real issues involved.

    Even the "n-word" can be used to entertain, illuminate and educate in the right hands (Richard Pryor, Dave Chappelle, Quentin Tarentino.)

    That's my take on the issue having not seen the movie yet.

  9. But they aren't calling for people to "give a second look" to the movie, they are calling a boycott for a movie that uses words that hurt their feelings. The good thing is that the only people that go along with this are the dummies that thought so already or where already preoccupied with another worthless "cause". Jesus, you guys are at war!

    The persecution of people/media that use any sort of slur is such a stupid quest. Since the problem is not the word itself but the thought behind it, you can force all of Alabama to not use the word nigger in any form and you'd still have the same amount of racism there.

    So if it's not about actual racism, then it's really about how people FEEL. Not having your feelings hurt is not a right!

    Come on people, (wo)Man Up!

  10. Let's see here. Tropic Thunder is a movie about somewhat stupid (maybe really stupid?), self-involved actors. Why wouldn't they use the word "retard?" This is like getting upset about a movie that includes racists using racist words (you all know the one to which I'm particularly referring). As far as I can tell, the lines in question are intended to show a way in which the characters are jerks - in other words, the fact that they use that word makes them look stupid and the joke wouldn't work if they substituted "developmentally disabled person."

    If this is the kind of thing that makes someone boycott Tropic Thunder, then that person isn't in the target audience anyway.

    This is one of those times when I miss George Carlin. I'm sure he'd be more than ready to set people straight on this.

    PS- While I was previewing, I see that Juan Carlos and H1pnerd hit some nails right on their heads, and did so better than I could. Well said.

  11. Anonymous4:50 PM


    In reference to all extreme points of view (measuring the extreme point however you wish), I agree that it's silly to outright ban any item. In my experience, these groups call for measures of this sort more as a way to call attention to an issue than out of any real sense of outrage.

    And, in many cases, the targets of their ire are almost never as horrible as they are painted.

    Having said that, however, I find it's often easier to tell people to "strap it on" than to moderate their viewpoints with rational conversation. I can't control how you feel any more than you can control how I feel, and far be it from me to attempt to advocate moderation in any online intercourse, but I doubt that compeling readers to "(wo)man up" will win people over to your side.

  12. idiot and moron used to mean one with mental retardation.
    lame means crippled.
    i don't know, i don't see the problem.
    especially with movies and other media, i believe characters are allowed to be ignorant, prejudice, sexist, racist, and so on. just because they're on a big screen, or in a book doesn't make them right.
    none of the characters in tropic thunder look especially likable anyway, and as already mentioned, the whole blackface thing.
    this movie is meant to be politically incorrect and push peoples buttons.
    personally i think it looks hilarious, while "step brothers" looks, well stupid. (another word meaning mentally slow!)

  13. The whole point behind the use of the word "retard" and Downey's turn in "black face" is to poke fun at actors and Hollywood film-making. I've been baffled by how any of this offends anyone. The people really being picked at aren't people with disabilities or blacks. The people being made fun of are ACTORS! Wouldn't it make more sense for SAG to demand a protest for some of their members being blatantly picked at for their obnoxious behavior behind the camera? The whole point is that this is how the characters in this film would speak and act. They are portraying people who are offensive, so it really wouldn't make any sense for them to not do offensive things, now would it? If the film portrayed these characters as wonderful and glamorous for these actions, then I'd have a problem with all of this, too.

  14. Have the kids started using autistic as an insult yet? I mean, the community already had to shorten Mentally Retarded to M.R. to keep using it. Almost every synonym for stupid (cretin, moron, etc.) was once an acceptable medical term for diminished mental capacity. They had to be abandoned one by one as the wider population abused it by applying it to others just to be rude. On behalf of the queers of the world, I going to say that pisses me off, more than a bit. If you use retard as an insult, you're an asshole.

    Feel free to censor or not post this message as necessary. However, the strength of the language matches my intensity on this subject.

  15. From my impressions of the film so far, I think that it is entirely intended to satirize self-congratulatory Hollywood "empathy," and is not at all taking lightly the actual experiences of the disabled or African Americans. That said, there is always an argument to be made from the offended parties that some things just can't be joked about benignly. I don't happen to feel that way about, uh, anything, if it's done well, but my sensitivities are different than others'.

  16. Anonymous10:38 AM

    Here's the thing.

    You don't get to be the one who decides what should outrage other people.

    A white man doesn't get to say what will offend a black woman, or an asian man, or an Indian girl. The inverse is also true. To reverse what's already been said, here, we're talking about someone's feelings.

    People get annoyed when others get upset over something that may seem trivial, because it's uncomfortable. No one wants to be labelled a bigot or as insensitive. But here's the thing.

    The difference between someone who's a bigot and someone who isn't is much more subtle than one is someone who uses the "n" word a lot. The difference is that the bigot refuses to alter his perceptions to the other person.

    If you aren't mentally disabled, or the parent of a mentally disabled child, you don't get to say "you people are being too sensitive." Hell, even if you are, you don't get to tell someone else, "you shouldn't feel that way."

    Because these are feelings, and people should be allowed to feel moral outrage. The question, then, is what is done with that outrage?

    Not all outrage is well thought out. Look at these posts, here. We're not even talking about Tropic Thunder anymore. Everyone is parroting George Carlin's routine about shell shock/combat fatigue/post-traumatic stress disorder, rather than talking about this movie.

    What does this say? It says that we all have hot button issues: whether it's overly complex language, or language that's (intentionally or unintentionally) insulting.

    That's about all I'm going to say on this issue. Should know better than to argue on the Internet.

  17. Greyman;

    -- In my experience, these groups call for measures of this sort more as a way to call attention to an issue than out of any real sense of outrage.

    ** I think this strategy really needs to be rethought. But I also think you're right, and nobody would pay attention if they said:"Words hurt people, and you should think about what you say and the people you say it to." Why? Because, while true, EVERYBODY'S heard that in one way or another, if they don't want to be sensitive they won't start because people are complaining on some filler blurb in the news.

    --Having said that, however, I find it's often easier to tell people to "strap it on" than to moderate their viewpoints with rational conversation.

    ** That's a pretty fascistic thing, just outright telling people to do what you want, using offended sensibilities as the only argument.

    I don't think (I hope!)these guys would be for a bill banning the word, but then again, they act in the news like they would. Hence the weakness of their message, if they're for a ban, they are derided as nuts, if they aren't, they are derided as hysterics vying for attention. UNless you agree with them, then it's just a waste of time, preaching to the choir.

    --I can't control how you feel any more than you can control how I feel, and far be it from me to attempt to advocate moderation in any online intercourse, but I doubt that compeling readers to "(wo)man up" will win people over to your side.

    ** I don't have a side really, If I did, I'd say it's the side of people that strive to be sensible.

    To me being sensible is knowing people are assholes and that you can't do anything about it, and knowing that kindness and sensitivity is only worth a damn if it's given willingly. That fights should be chosen and that people with special needs suffer far bigger injustices that could use the energy you're(the protesters "you") wasting on this.

    The "(wo)man up" thing was meant as friendly ribbing.

  18. I have already seen Tropic Thunder... it was great.... when it was called... "Three Amigos"

    Three self absorbed actors get thrown into a real world scenario believing it to be a motion picture exercise? Sound familiar?

  19. Tropic Thunder is very unfair to a certain, small segment of society.
    These people have every right to be offended and would serve their interests to express their obvious pain inflicted by this heartless, cruel piece of entertainment designed to please the masses at the expense of a group unable to defend itself.
    This group I speak of, is known as Celebrity.
    How dare their plight of being willfully self-involved and oblivious to only the most blatant forms sycophancy be displayed for the braying cheers and catcalls of an audience on non-famous movie goers!
    How can one find humor in the inability of these poor creatures to deal with the normal tasks of modern living, unshielded by their agents, assistants, agents' assistants, PR personnel, callgirls, personal masseuses, lawyers, lawyers' lawyers, and grips?
    To render their plight as amusement speaks to a society that relishes cruelty and coldness, I beseech you all, how can such a travesty be allowed?
    Easily. While the protests of certain groups is more than understandable, Tropic Thunder isn't the enemy they think it is.

  20. I will see the movie. Probably on our version of "HBO" in a few months...

    Does this "controversy" make me want to see the movie "more" or "less"?

    Now that is the question. I think I was intrigued by Robert Downey's character going through a procedure to darken his skin to play a African American.

    But the mental disability group's protest has probably led me to want to see the movie...

    Yay for free publicity :/


  21. "Have the kids started using autistic as an insult yet?"

    Yeah. It's more common to see Asperger's Syndrome mocked, because a lot of people claim to be self-diagnosed for it. They get called "asspie"s and are frequently told to get back in their hug boxes.